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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Initation Pt. 2 - Esoteric Initiation: Roses, Crosses, Golden Generative Organs, and Great White Brotherhoods


In our previous post in this series, we talked about the moment in which we encounter a question. That question has a series of iterations and may be encountered in many ways. Exploring it can happen in structured ceremonies, or in your own personal initiatic journey. That isn’t the only structure for, or part of initiation. 


Formal systems of initiation, often structured as lodges or orders today, previously structured as mystery schools or mystery traditions, frequently move through a series of stages. The questions we discussed might be scattered through those stages, but there is often a greater structure the initiate moves through in this process. These stages are what we will refer to as esoteric initiation. In most cases they involve esoteric teachings, changes in perspective, and adjustments in how we understand ourselves and the world, but they are not typically about fundamental changes in who we are, what we are, our capabilities, or spiritual connections. These latter sort of changes will fall into what we have called magical initiations, and sometimes are part of religious initiations. 


A single ceremony might have both esoteric and magical elements. We are not discussing specific ceremonies, and are instead talking about structures and concepts. Some structures might straddle the line between the two. 


This installment will focus on esoteric initiation. We will consider three ways of structuring such initiations. The life cycle, the elemental rotation, and the stages of mastery. 


The life cycle can be addressed with different demarcations of its stages and occurs in various social systems of initiation, as well as religious and cultural initiation structures. Generally, it will be focused on three moments, but those moments might be expanded to four or five in more esoteric contexts. Birth, Adolescence, and Marriage are a basic breakdown. Many religious systems have moments which acknowledge these phases. A similar structure in some cultures is Youth, Adult, Elder. A popular modern iteration of this is the Maiden Mother Crone concept. While this iteration does not have a particular basis in mythology as a theological structure for goddesses, this sort of life cycle approach to ritual observance is widespread and has a long history. 


Cultures which mark these moments as part of participation within the community, or as part of one’s status in the religious community have ceremonies which acknowledge these naturally existing moments. The ceremonies occur at the appropriate moments in the life cycle and are made special through these acknowledgements. Guidance might be provided. Tools, or promises of aid to move through these periods of life might be gifted. Celebrations might occur which make these moments, which could be otherwise difficult or awkward to navigate alone, into something happy and normative. The rituals are not necessarily viewed as creating the experience of this phase of life, rather they mark it, they might ease the transition, and they might provide blessings and assistance. A great deal has been said by many people about the detriment cultures experience when they lose these modes of structuring life’s key moments. 


In more esoteric contexts the experience is different. These moments often become symbolic and adult initiates experience initiations based upon these moments, rather than ceremonies which inform a naturally existing moment. The ceremony may be viewed as having the esoteric power to immerse the individual in the creative powers and universal forces associated with that phase of life, or the phase of life might simply be a symbolic allegory that contextualizes the lessons of the initiation. The movement through an esoteric life cycle also highlights the idea that the initiate experiences a second secret life in which they more deeply explore and master the elements of experience of the world and the secret components hidden therein. 


This esoteric life cycle may have different phases than the three more standard phases. Conception, Birth, Youth, Life, Adulthood, Elderhood, Death, and Afterlife might all be phases that could be explored as part of the esoteric lifecycle. 


These phases of the esoteric life cycle each teach a different series of lessons, and they are often two-fold. One portion teaches us the esoteric understanding of that phase of life. The other portion teaches us the responsibilities and mental or emotional skills, or the social virtues which the system believes allow us to navigate problems from the perspective of that phase of life. 


An initiation of Conception might teach us about exploring new opportunities, entering into new situations, or undertaking new possibilities. We might learn that the navigation of such situations involves coming to know the customs and routines of the situation and connection with the community of people who know about and who have also engaged in that endeavor. Death might teach us about release from burdens, understanding continuity and cycles, and the balance between resolve and prudence when facing things others are not as prepared for. It might show us that through change, the exploration of the unknown, and situations of apparent chaos, that our own constancy, strength, and possession of the core of who we are, can carry us through to the solution. 


Each phase can teach us different lessons. Different organizations and structures will value different virtues and teach different lessons within those same constructs. There may be a relationship between the core elements of those lessons even if specific focuses and interpretations vary, because they’re still all dealing with core elements of human experience. 


These elements of human experience are lessons that belong to everyone. Everyone has a right to explore the meaning of birth, or life. We all experience those things, and we can learn from reflecting upon our own experiences. The esoteric meanings of such things may be germane to us all. 


The difficulty in exploring these things on our own is that we don’t know what the lessons will teach us until we have explored them. Creating a structure for exploring the esoteric meanings and the tools that are taken from reifying the phases of life into expansive moments of interwoven inspirations designed to coalesce into realization, isn’t really possible unless we know what those realizations are. This process is definitely one that is easier to undergo within a group. 


The sad part of that is, even in a group, you need to be able to find the answers the experience offers. Not everyone is insightful. Not everyone embodies the lessons of the experience. Everyone who does it, and everyone who steps up to lead and coordinate, wants to think they have really grasped what’s there. Sometimes, we’re lucky, and we have teachers and leaders who really did get it. Sometimes we’re not lucky and their own baggage or inability gets in the way. Or, they aren’t really looking for true initiation, so initiation doesn’t click for them, but they still want to be a leader. Maybe they just didn’t do the work needed for the spark to unfold into an actual guiding light. When we have people like that around us, they’ll convince themselves they get it, make up neat little explanations that feel like cool occult intellectual knick knacks, and they’ll think it’s the wisdom they’re supposed to teach. They’re probably even being earnest in teaching it. It just might not be too meaningful. 


If you find these groups, and take these initiations, do the work. Dive deep into reflection. Look at the lessons in your own life. Read supporting materials and philosophy. Read material beyond what they recommend to you. Pay attention and try to find people who do seem to really get it, and who reflect something beyond just organizational standing…people who seem to be implementing something with meaning. See if those people are willing to give some guidance, but still, be critical and apply your own reason and discernment. 


A good way to understand phase of life initiations is as a house. A house has rooms. At different points, depending on what you’re doing, different rooms will be more useful than others. You can move around in a house and go to the room that is most appropriate, and you aren’t stuck in one room forever. Sometimes, you don’t have access to all the rooms, but as you get older, you probably get more access. 


These initiations work the same way. Taking one doesn’t mean you lose the last one. It does mean you have new tools and perspectives. Some situations in life will be best handled using your new tools and perspectives. Some will be better handled using one of your previous tool kits. Just like a house, you can move from dealing with things as a Master of Death, to an Apprentice of Birth as the tools fit the situation. Each initiation unlocks a new room and you can freely move between the rooms as needed because you retain access to each. 


That metaphor is not my own, it comes from the late Bill Heidrick, but it’s a very good one and one I’ve enjoyed the last 22 years or so. 


Our next structure is the elemental rotation. The rotation of the elements is an alchemical process in which a material is moved through states of earth, air, water, and fire, or by which it is impacted by the power of each of those elements. This can also be understood as one element acting on another element to produce a transition to a third element. 


In the context of initiation, the material is the initiate, and the stages of initiation are elemental in nature. Often, people think of these as invoking the particular force of the element to act in the initiate’s life. There can be a component of these initiations that acts that way. More importantly, the work of the initiate immerses the initiate within the perspectives, nature, and modes of thinking and operating related to that element. Rather than grasping this as molding the initiate by means or elemental force, or the initiate acquiring elemental power, the initiate moves through the phases of creation as understood through the elemental worlds or the elemental natures. 


When exploring earth the initiate understands the world through material senses and experiences. Manifest forms express the world for the initiate. Stability, fecundity, firmness, resolution, the ability to grab, grasp, mold and build are the conceptual elements which guide the initiate. The initiate seeks to comprehend the world as fully and completely from these perspectives as possible. Interaction is understood as the collision of materials and the sense impressions that brings. The world is a tactile, sensible, physical series of experiences and interactions. 


The initiate of the world of air deals with definition and form. The world is crisp. There are clear dividing lines. Words, sentences, glyphs, icons, these all have meaning and those meanings cut like a knife. As if a sculptor, the initiate can chisel away at the material of the world and uncover the individual meaning of each idea and identity present before him. Instead of being singular boxes, words are strokes of the chisel, each word and label applied to an identity cuts away at all the things it isn’t and reveals some piece of what it is. The various words, ideas, and meanings, which give form to a thing come together to elucidate each definitive line that makes it what it is specifically and sets it apart from everything else. By setting each thing apart as its own identifiable reality, we see how it cuts against the space around it, we see how like a puzzle piece it fits back to the rest of the pieces in its environment. The cutting away of that which isn’t provides form, the the specifics of the form allow us to see how that which has been individuated fits in with everything else around it.  


The initiate of the world of water deals with concepts, feelings, emotions, and associations. Sounds, smells, shapes, colors, each of these can call to mind feelings and memories. These feelings and memories join together with the myriad of other experiences we ourselves have had, and those we’ve read in stories, seen in movies, and heard about from those around us. All that which is alike about a thing tells us more deeply about it by reminding us of what else it is like, and how it connects and interconnects with other pieces of the world, other concepts, other experiences. We see the currents of things. We see how love, and joy, and anger, and hatred can all be modes of seeing red and we understand how there are threads of experience shared between each of those states. We begin to see how those shared threads can cause one to lead to the other, or pull someone from one more safely back to another. We begin to understand how various pieces can gel together to create something greater than each individual piece, and how the characteristics that congeal together shape the concepts which occur within our lives. 


The initiate of the world of fire experiences impulse, action, movement, energy, and the explosive nature of beginnings. Before motion has characteristic, definition, or material, it is the spark towards something. Each spark may have its own particular movement, but it shares fire with each spark that moves from the same initial source. Directionless stirring, impulse, desire, growth, these all precede anything we feel, think, or make. There is a “doing” on some level, an action or a movement, even if it is just within the spirit, or the flash of a thought, that precedes shape, form, and birth of any thing or action that comes into the world. In the fires of inspiration we can see potentials, and understand that the whirling form of coming into being often has myriad directions into which potentials can go. We begin to understand the interconnectivity of motion that underlies those things which often seem so specific and divided, and how the powerful commitment to trajectory allows the creation of a current within the concourse of unified motion that allows fruition or non-fruition to occur, and brings that spark of existence into gestation through the formative elemental natures into something knowable and experiential. 


The process of moving through these phases of work involves moving through these modes of seeing, understanding, thinking and experiencing. As we move through one it becomes everything. The entirety of our sight is opened up to a new world; we are immersed in this mode of comprehension. We unbalance ourselves and we risk our ability to stand amid the forces and experiences of the world and safely walk through them without snapping or breaking due to the fact that we have leaned so far into one experience at the expense of all others. Once we have fully immersed ourselves in that perspective, the imbalance is corrected as we are pulled towards the next perspective that we will acquire within our journey. 


While Bill compared the life phases to rooms which we continue to possess and move through, he felt that these elemental initiations were ones in which our status changes and so we don’t move back through them. My magister felt that once you completed one series of initiations through this process, it was often useful for the adept to refine themselves by moving through new forms of engaging this process. These two perspectives aren’t fully at odds, but they differ in whether or not you can return to a place where you were. Bill says you can’t, OVI says you can, but by re-engaging the process, and that each time you do it, it will become more natural and less extreme. 


My view is that if you successfully undergo these processes, you don’t return to them in the same way. You can re-experience them. But, as an adept you inherit and balance them. The understanding you had isn’t lost. It just isn’t percolating to the point that it’s all you can see. Over time it settles into the core of who you are and how you think and see. The lessons of it become part of you and they now work together as one to more fully and deeply experience the world. The imbalance and the potential madness and obsession of it no longer remains. That is the nature of having triumphed within that path and successfully birthing the rose from the walled garden. 


I’ve explained these pieces in fair detail here. I guess that means you can reflect on this and that works, you don’t need to go initiate through these processes? Obviously, the answer to that question is no. You can read about them and determine if they’re something for you or not. You can decide if they are part of the process that calls to you, or if that seems like a road to insanity, or a stroll through nonsense. Maybe it seems fully reasonable to you but doesn’t call to you. Maybe it calls to you strongly. 


Reading about it can only help you determine those things. It can let you know what the steps might look like and what completion is. Until you do it, it’s meaningless though. You can know what sex is, but you haven’t felt it until you’ve done it, and even then, you still might not quite have really had what the experience has to offer you. The same thing here. 


Like the path of life, the elemental road appears in many different variants in many different groups. Meaningful initiation through them doesn’t occur for everyone who does them, and not every initiator is equipped to actually guide you. They can give you tools, but you have to do the work. They might have a sense that it’s about checking specific boxes, doing certain practices, or passing some written tests. Ask yourself, does obtaining the powers of the sphinx sound like memorizing Crowley poetry, or passing a quiz on which astrological symbols can be tied to which Hebrew letters, or does it sound like what I’ve described above? If you join a group for this work, do the work of that group. Do it with an eye to creating the immersion you need for real initiation. Add work, study, reflection, and experiences which help with that immersion if you need to. 


This kind of initiation you can do on your own. 


It might be hard to create a curriculum for it wholestock of your own imagination and ingenuity. There are plenty of books which provide structures for this kind of elemental work. The A.’.A.’. System is publicly available for anyone who wants to look at it. Crowley described it in various different ways and didn’t strictly follow any of them consistently. There is some room for interpreting but the resources are there. Regardie provided access to the materials and curriculum of the Golden Dawn. Other writers have since extrapolated on that system. Other systems, both from before and after the Golden Dawn, have had their initiations, and sometimes their teachings, published. The magical writers who informed those systems wrote books which are available, as did the people who created those systems. There are structures you can work with on your own to build an approach. You can tweak it as you go. You know what kind of experience you’re looking for; you’ll know if you’re having it. 


A good teacher won’t protect you from the pitfalls entirely. They won’t stop you from adding elements which you find useful. They might enforce elements that they know are useful, but which might seem less obvious to you. They might help reign you in if you start to go crazy, or fall off the path more than is safe. A good organization might be able to do the same things. The drawback is many organizations will have politics or agendas. They might also have fixations on elements which simply aren’t useful, but which define their particular organization or lineage. 


It’s up to you to use discernment and weigh what any group or person has to offer. Look at whether or not they come with baggage that is counter productive. Recognize that everyone will probably come with things you don’t want or need, so not everything is a deal breaker. If all you can find are folks who come with deal breakers, you can still do this on your own.


The final structure we’ll talk about are the stages of mastery. Sometimes, these are also thought of as Birth, Life, and Death (or Marriage.) This is a three phase structure. This could be viewed as the underlying structure on which the other two structures we discussed might play out. The elemental rotation, and the phases of life are both means by which the individual can explore…particularly when taken with the questions in part one…and move from the first stage to the second stage of this structure. These stages are sometimes described as degrees, and sometimes as symbolic orders which provide the meta-structure for initiatic bodies. The way they are laid out, in terms of whether they are treated as three discreet degrees alone, or three phases with grades or degrees making up each phase, can vary dramatically. There are many legitimate ways to approach this. 


Part of why there are many legitimate ways to approach this is because this process is always individual.


You might find it useful to explore modes of moving through the first phase in multiple systems. You might enter the second phase and revisit modes of the first phase in new systems. A key thought in this cross system approach is to do work in a given phase in one system at a time, or if working two systems at once, use two that have different structures. 


While some systems will have initiations tied to each of these phases, the experience and perspective for each phase is very personal. This structure typically overlaps with magical initiation. Because of that, you will likely need to go through real and personal changes, and acquire real and meaningful connections to fully move through these phases. Some systems will lay their degrees out using this three phase structure. Taking those degrees will likely help you, but don’t accept that as settled attainment of these phases. Use them to guide yourself to a real and deep intrinsic attainment. The process described here is a major one involving significant developmental changes. 


The three phases are basically a Novice or Seeker, An Experienced Skilled Individual, and a Master. Different systems call these different things. 


The novice might be called: Novice, Mason, Initiate, Magician, Witch, Man of Earth, Aspirant. In the A.’.A.’. Structure and the Golden Dawn this is the GD. 


The experienced skilled individual might be called: Adept, Companion, Knight, Priest/ess, Lover. In the A.’.A.’. Structure and the Golden Dawn this is the RC or RR et AC. 


The Masters is…well, a Master. They might be called, Master, Magister, Magus, Hermit, High Priest/ess. In the A.’.A.’. Structure and the Golden Dawn this is the SS. 


The first phase involves entering into the journey, recognizing that there is a light to be sought after and pursuing it. That pursuit involves understanding the world through which that light moves, and understanding yourself in juxtaposition to that world. This will often involve obtaining a series of skills and perspectives, it might involve community and learning the ways and processes of a community. 


The second phase comprehends that there is a relationship between you and the light you are seeking. To some degree, this may involve seeing the light as part of yourself, or the light as a particular guide for yourself, but neither with full identification therewith. This phase may involve deepening understandings of oneself and the skills one has acquired, learning new skills, navigating more esoteric and spiritual elements of reality, and gaining knowledge and experience beyond those afforded by mundane means by the utilization of the tools and skills your previous phase provided or prepared you to acquire. There is often a deepening of that “secret life” of the initiate both in terms of deeper exploration and in terms of elements and processes that may connect your more fully with the initiatic currents you are exploring. The connection with a personal guide or expression of the light is often key to this phase, and that is where this phase touches the space of magical initiation. While the last phase may have involved community, this phase is frequently more about individuation, although context within community may still be relevant in some systems and approaches. 


The third phase is in a way the abrogation of the previous phases. This phase involves the elevation of everything that came before to its fullest, and then releasing it. This release occurs because this phase is a phase of union. The threads which unite all the pieces of what you have previously experienced and obtained are understood. Seeing and understanding the threads which connect all you have done allows you to see the unity of all the pieces. Once you comprehend that unity, you are able to give it over to the infinite, in doing so, the alleviation of those specific elements of individuation allow you to also experience unity. The question of focus on the self versus the community is transcended because the two aims become one. The acquisition of a guide becomes the comprehension of continuity between the self, the guiding light, and the source. Rather than a priest or priestess communicating the influence of that guiding light, you are an expression of it, and that act of expression feeds the community and in doing so conducts the particular work through which you are also the One. This phase also has elements which involve magical initiation to truly attain it. This phase is transient; its component parts are a concurrent unity, but it is also not fully apprehendable as a consistent state and so the Master will at times move closer to their state before obtaining mastery. 


Some elements of each of these phases could be obtained without necessarily entering into any system which offers processes or direction to obtain these developmental experiences. Some systems recognize that either the second or the third phase can be obtained individually, sometimes spontaneously. The first phase heavily implies participation in some curriculum. Even having undertaken a curriculum for the first phase, the second and third phases are often understood to be based primarily in the guidance and direction of the forces and powers that the first phase directs you towards. Some systems will still provide structures for initiation, teachings, or work to help develop through these last two phases and they might support the personal work and exploration you are doing. 


Generally, this will be a lifelong process. It might involve long periods of work and long periods of rest and exploration of multiple systems and approaches. For most people, the first phase is the primary occupation and a reasonable occupation. For most people, the second phase is a reasonable and admirable goal, and is much more attainable than many people realize. 


In these cases “most people” means most people who would set out on these paths of esoteric initiation. For the vast majority of people none of this will be a calling at all, even though some of these paths would be useful on a more broad and accessible basis - particularly the path of life phases. For some called to magic, these paths will be unattractive, but there may be many attractive elements of magical initiation. As we said, magical initiation overlaps with some of these experiences and might also be done in tandem with some of these experiences. Particular sorts of magical initiation will be the subject of our next installment. 



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